In the winter of 2002 I drove to an appointment and having a few extra minutes decided to finish listening to an interview with Mr. Fred Rogers on NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ program. He told about his upbringing, work as an educator and the popular television show. He also studied music and became an ordained minister.
Mister Rogers also talked at length about his childhood in Pennsylvania and how he was bullied by other children. He said the bullying was probably because he was very small and skinny. He didn’t sound as though he harbored any bitterness toward those children and was only trying to explain the reasons he might have been targeted. I was so engrossed that I was almost late. All I could think about during my appointment was little Fred Rogers, how small he was and how scared he must have been. I felt as if I was seeing Mister Rogers for the first time and the mother in me was compelled to reach out to him.
With my appointment over, I came straight home and looked up “Mister Rogers address” on Google. I began my letter to him by thanking him for being so candid in his NPR interview. Then I told him about my daughter Francisca who suffered from bullies her whole life and at the time was still facing them in college. I just wanted to hug him like I had hugged my helpless daughter when she was home. I mailed the letter the next day and forgot about it. After all, Mister Rogers was a big TV personality and probably has a staff to read his fan letters, right?
Wrong! A couple of weeks later I received a correspondence from Mister Rogers that blew me away. Not only did he send me a heartfelt reply but an encouraging letter to go with an autographed letter for Francisca. I tried not to but I just sat there and cried. The signatures were as genuine as the man; I sat him on the same imaginary pedestal as John Glenn and Jimmy Stewart that day. I sent my daughter an e-mail saying I had a surprise for her and took it up to her over the weekend.
Mister Rogers passed away a couple of months later from stomach cancer at age seventy-five. My daughter and I grieved as did most of America— we had lost a national treasure. A short interview and our letters made it much deeper and more personal. Mister Rogers had been much more than a sweater-wearing neighbor and we were impressed by his sincerity and bona fide kindness.
Some people write to famous people as a hobby to ask for photos or autographs. I only ever wrote to one other celebrity because I considered him to be a quality person who lived a clean, unblemished life— that was Jimmy Stewart. I wished him a happy birthday and thanked him for his service and war record— I still have his reply tucked away. To me, there are very few people who match my values enough to warrant a letter, maybe John Glenn… in time.
“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”
~Fred Rogers, 3/20/1928—2/27/2003
Talk with a Volunteer or Find a Group in New Jersey:
1-800-843-5437 or 1-800-THE-KIDS
Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc.
Phone: (609) 585-7666
Fax: (609) 585-7686
Jackie Saulmon Ramirez has served as a volunteer with Parents Anonymous® of New Jersey, Inc. for more than twenty years, giving and getting support. Jackie writes these ‘Reminders’ for parents who attend the online support groups. The groups are found at www.pa-of-nj.org every Wednesday 9 p.m. and Thursday 12 Noon. To receive the ‘Reminder,’ send her a message below. Website: www.JackieSaulmonRamirez.com